Bodies in UK well killed in mediaeval anti-Semitic massacre: study

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Based on the skeletal remains, scientists reconstructed the face of a male adult (left) and a child (right). Credit: Professor Caroline Wilkinson, Liverpool John Moores University

Seventeen bodies found at the bottom of a mediaeval English well were likely Jews who were murdered in an anti-Semitic massacre more than 800 years ago, scientists have revealed.

The massacre took place in 1190 AD in the eastern city of Norwich, where just decades prior the seeds had been planted for an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that persists up to the present day,” they said in a new study.

The scientists used an array of techniques—including analysing the oldest known Jewish genomes—to unravel the mystery.

It began when construction workers were digging up land for a future shopping centre in Norwich in 2004. They stumbled upon the remains of at least 17 people—six adults and 11 children, including three sisters—in the old well.

The bodies were buried at strange angles, some head-first, suggesting the possibility of violent death.

Ian Barnes, a geneticist at London’s Natural History Museum, first started looking into the remains while working on the BBC documentary series “History Cold Case” in 2011.

“We first thought it more likely that they were the victims of some sort of plague, epidemic, famine, something like that,” Barnes, one of the authors of the study published in the journal Current Biology this week, told AFP.

Using , the team narrowed down the date of the deaths to between 1161-1216 AD.

Population bottleneck

DNA analysis of six of the victims found they were predisposed to certain .

Computer simulations then showed that the frequency of these diseases was roughly the same for the Norwich victims as for modern Ashkenazi Jews, indicating a .

This would make them the oldest Jewish genomes ever analysed.

“Nobody had analysed Jewish ancient DNA before because of prohibitions on the disturbance of Jewish graves,” Barnes said. “However, we did not know this until after doing the .”

It also sheds light on a known historical event when the number of Ashkenazi Jews suddenly dwindled—called a population bottleneck—which causes such genetic variants to occur.

The bottleneck was previously believed to have taken place up between 500 to 800 years ago.

But Mark Thomas, a study co-author and geneticist at University College London, told AFP the new research “strongly suggests” that the bottleneck must have predated the Norwich victims, meaning it could have occurred hundreds of years earlier than thought.

‘Conspiracy theory persists’

The scientists also found indications that a young boy in the well had blues eyes and red hair—anti-Semitic stereotypes at the time often involved .

“As we did more and more analysis,” Barnes said, “everything just kept getting more and more convincing”.

Their analysis pointed to a single event—violence during anti-Semitic riots recorded in Norwich on February 6, 1190 AD.

Barnes said that “anti-Semitic feelings were riding high because plans were in place to conduct the Third Crusade”.

And less than 50 years earlier, a local boy had been brutally murdered in an event that cast a long shadow. The family of the boy, who was later dubbed William of Norwich, blamed his murder on local Jews.

It became the first known version of the anti-Semitic “blood libel” myth, in which Jews are falsely accused of killing Christian boys to use their blood in rituals.

“This antisemitic persists today, its origins lie within the soil of Norwich,” tweeted Adam Rutherford, a geneticist at University College London.

“The bodies in the well present a unique opportunity to assess the roots of this contemporary racism.”



More information:
Mark Thomas, Genomes from a medieval mass burial show Ashkenazi-associated hereditary diseases pre-date the 12th century, Current Biology (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.08.036. www.cell.com/current-biology/f … 0960-9822(22)01355-0

© 2022 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Bodies of man and his slave unearthed from ashes at Pompeii

Hexbyte Glen Cove

The casts of what are believed to have been a rich man and his male slave fleeing the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago, are seen in what was an elegant villa on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii destroyed by the eruption in 79 A.D., where they were discovered during recents excavations, Pompeii archaeological park officials said Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Parco Archeologico di Pompei via AP)

Skeletal remains of what are believed to have been a rich man and his male slave attempting to escape death from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago have been discovered in Pompeii, officials at the archaeological park in Italy said Saturday.

Parts of the skulls and bones of the two men were found during excavation of the ruins from what was once an elegant villa with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city destroyed by the volcano eruption in 79 A.D. It’s the same area where a stable with the remains of three harnessed horses were excavated in 2017.

Pompeii officials said the men apparently escaped the initial fall of ash from Mount Vesuvius then succumbed to a powerful volcanic blast that took place the next morning. The later blast “apparently invaded the area from many points, surrounding and burying the victims in ash,” Pompeii officials said in a statement.

The remains of the two victims, lying next to each other on their backs, were found in a layer of gray ash at least 2 meters (6.5 feet) deep, they said.

As has been done when other remains have been discovered at the Pompeii site, archaeologists poured liquid chalk into the cavities, or void, left by the decaying bodies in the ash and pumice that rained down from the volcano near modern-day Naples and demolished the upper levels of the villa.

The casts of one of two bodies that are believed to have been a rich man and his male slave fleeing the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago, are seen in what was an elegant villa on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii destroyed by the eruption in 79 A.D., where they were discovered during recents excavations, Pompeii archaeological park officials said Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 (Parco Archeologico di Pompei via AP)

The technique, pioneered in the 1800s, gives the image not only of the shape and position of the victims in the throes of death, but makes the remains “seem like statues,” said Massimo Osanna, an archaeologist who is director general of the archaeological park operated under the jurisdiction of the Italian Culture Ministry.

Judging by cranial bones and teeth, one of the men was young, likely aged 18 to 25, with a spinal column with compressed discs. That finding led archaeologists to hypothesize that he was a young man who did manual labor, like that of a slave.

The other man had a robust bone structure, especially in his chest area, and died with his hands on his chest and his legs bent and spread apart. He was estimated to have been 30- to 40-years-old, Pompeii officials said. Fragments of white paint were found near the man’s face, probably remnants of a collapsed upper wall, the officials said.

  • The casts of what are believed to have been a rich man and his male slave fleeing the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago, are seen in what was an elegant villa on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii destroyed by the eruption in 79 A.D., where they were discovered during recents excavations, Pompeii archaeological park officials said Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Parco Archeologico di Pompei via AP)
  • The casts of what are believed to have been a rich man and his male slave fleeing the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago, are seen in what was an elegant villa on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii destroyed by the eruption in 79 A.D., where they were discovered during recents excavations, Pompeii archaeological park officials said Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Parco Archeologico di Pompei via AP)
  • The casts of what are believed to have been a rich man and his male slave fleeing the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago, are seen in what was an elegant villa on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii destroyed by the eruption in 79 A.D., where they were discovered during recents excavations, Pompeii archaeological park officials said Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Parco Archeologico di Pompei via AP)
  • The casts of what are believed to have been a rich man and his male slave fleeing the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago, are seen in what was an elegant villa on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii destroyed by the eruption in 79 A.D., where they were discovered during recents excavations, Pompeii archaeological park officials said Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Parco Archeologico di Pompei via AP)
  • The casts of what are believed to have been a rich man and his male slave fleeing the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago, are seen in what was an elegant villa on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii destroyed by the eruption in 79 A.D., where they were discovered during recents excavations, Pompeii archaeological park officials said Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Parco Archeologico di Pompei via AP)
  • The casts of what are believed to have been a rich man and his male slave fleeing the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago, are seen in what was an elegant villa on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii destroyed by the eruption in 79 A.D., where they were discovered during recents excavations, Pompeii archaeological park officials said Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Parco Archeologico di Pompei via AP)
  • A detail of the casts of one of two bodies that are believed to have been a rich man and his male slave fleeing the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago, are seen in what was an elegant villa on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii destroyed by the eruption in 79 A.D., where they were discovered during recents excavations, Pompeii archaeological park officials said Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Parco Archeologico di Pompei via AP)
  • A detail of the casts of one of two bodies that are believed to have been a rich man and his male slave fleeing the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago, are seen in what was an elegant villa on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii destroyed by the eruption in 79 A.D., where they were discovered during recents excavations, Pompeii archaeological park officials said Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Parco Archeologico di Pompei via AP)

Both skeletons were found in a side room along an underground corridor, or passageway, known in ancient Roman times as a cryptoporticus, which led to to the upper level of the villa.

“The victims were probably looking for shelter in the cryptoporticus, in this underground space, where they thought they were better protected,” said Osanna.

Instead, on the morning of Oct. 25, 79 A.D., a “blazing cloud (of volcanic material) arrived in Pompeii and…killed anyone it encountered on its way,” Osanna said.

Based on the impression of fabric folds left in the ash layer, it appeared the younger man was wearing a short, pleated tunic, possibly of wool. The older victim, in addition to wearing a tunic, appeared to have had a mantle over his left shoulder.

Mount Vesuvius remans an active volcano. While excavations continue at the site near Naples, tourists are currently barred from the archaeological park under national anti-COVID-19 measures.



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Citation:
Bodies of man and his slave unearthed from ashes at Pompeii (2020, November 21)
retrieved 22 November 2020
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